How to read body language in an interview

In the workplace, active listening is not just about hearing; it’s about observing body language and responding accordingly. The ability to anticipate the needs of a boss or colleague – and deliver on them before they have verbally asked for them – is a skill that will make you stand out.

During an interview, it’s even more important to be aware of body language and be responsive to it. Learning how to read body language is essential to interpreting how well you are performing in an interview, so that you can adjust your responses to interview questions and win them over. It’s also just as important to modify your own movements to show your best side and appear warm and confident.

Here’s the low-down on job interview body language, starting from the top down:

Head, face and eyes

In an interview – particularly video interviews – focus on the head, face and eyes for important cues as to how the interviewer feels.

What to look for:

  • Direct eye contact. This shows confidence, trust and interest. Conversely, if your employer continually looks away or over your shoulder, this shows that he or she is preoccupied, impatient or disinterested. Consider whether you might be being too long-winded in your answer, and bring your response back on point.
  • A head that is slightly tilted displays interest and empathy.
  • A sincere smile. When the interviewer smiles, look at the corners of the eyes for a crinkle. This indicates that the smile is genuine. If the smile is only in the mouth, you’ll know if the interviewer is just being polite or forcing the smile. Think about awkward family portraits that you may have been in in the past – often the reason the portraits look awkward is because the smiles are forced.

What to do:

  • Tilt your head slightly when the hiring manager is speaking and maintain eye contact. However, keep it looking natural and don’t stare. It’s ok to look away occasionally, for example, if you need to refer to your notes or write something down.
  • Smile, smile, smile. Before you walk into the interview, put yourself in a positive frame of mind by thinking about how good you’ll feel if you get the job. That positivity will shine through in a genuine way, and you will make a great entrance.

Arms and hands

Many people ‘talk with their hands’, so this is an easy and obvious way to attune to how the hiring manager is feeling.

What to look for:

  • Arms wide open. If the hiring manager has extended or opened arms, this usually means that they are relaxed and open to your ideas. Crossed arms are usually an obvious indication of unengaged and uncomfortable.
  • Jazz hands (well, not literally). Big, expansive hand gestures usually mean passion – which can be a positive or negative thing, depending on the context.

What to do:

  • Shake hands. At the start and end of the interview, give a firm (but not clenching) handshake, smile, and look your interviewer in the eye. You will come across as warm and confident and make a lasting impression.
  • Keep your arms and hands open. Even if you’re cold, don’t cross your arms – it will appear as a barrier between you and the hiring manager and hinder your ability to connect.
  • Don’t fidget or touch your face – it shows nervousness and discomfort.


Posture is a subtle indicator of how someone feels, but it’s a critical piece of the body language puzzle.

What to look for:

  • Sitting up straight – a straight and open torso indicates the interviewer is at ease and is confident.
  • A hunched torso. Conversely, a hunched torso can indicate the interviewer is defensive, or weary of the interview.

What to do:

  • Lean in. Position your torso so that it is leaning in slightly towards the interviewer. This will make you appear interested in the content of the interview and the role itself.
  • Monkey see, monkey do. Mirroring the interviewer’s body posture in a subtle way indicates an alignment of views, as well as comfort and connection.

Legs and feet

They might be difficult to see, but the legs and feet are, surprisingly, a good indicator of how someone is feeling towards you.

What to look for:

  • Both feet pointing towards you – standing or sitting in this way, indicates interest and an openness to connection.
  • A foot pointed out or away. This indicates a desire to leave (almost literally, the person is telling you they would like to put one foot out the door).
  • Crossed legs – usually means the person is defensive or closed off.
  • Shifting weight or a leg twitching – shows the interviewer is anxious or stressed.

What to do:

  • Sit comfortably, with a straight back and both feet pointed towards the interviewer. Even if you are doing a phone  interview or a video interview and your lower half can’t be seen; if you act as you would in an in-person interview, you will come across as enthusiastic.

Open to interpretation

Remember that each person is different and the context will tell a considerable part of the story. Crossed arms are often a sign of being closed off – but the person could also simply be chilly. Being fidgety could indicate boredom or impatience – but it can also be an indication of excitement or enthusiasm. It’s important to judge each situation individually and take into account personal quirks and personalities. Want more tips on body language? Read our article 'Body language: What you're saying without actually saying it'.

Take a look at our job interview page for more interview tips and advice.

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